Is nighttime hiking really a thing? If you’re like me, then you probably haven’t made it a habit to go out for a hike in the late evening or before sunrise. After all, it can be a little spooky with no one else around and only your Knuckle Lights for company. But in actuality, night hiking can be exhilarating!
There are a number of reasons people opt to hike while it is still dark out. You'll see the hiking trail and the great outdoors in a whole new light by relying more on your other senses. During the summer, hiking at night will give you sweet relief from blistering heat. And the beauty and uniqueness of being out at night can truly be appreciated, something rarely seen by most daytime hikers. These are only a few reasons but it makes me want to hit that dark trail right now!
Night hiking, as it sounds is a simple concept. A lot of people think that you just need to add one thing to your day hiking regimen and then you can go out at night. This is not necessarily true though. Here are 3 steps to consider if you want to add nighttime hikes to your routine.
1. Gear Up! The Number 1 Thing You Need for Night Hiking
Having the right gear is important even for a daytime hike. Hiking at night requires even more planning when it comes to gear. Beyond your reliable and sturdy hiking boots, the most critical piece of hiking gear when going out past sunset is a light of some type. The light you choose doesn’t have to be the brightest, most powerful super charged LED that blasts light as bright as noon on a Tuesday. In fact, you may want to limit the use of your light when possible and enjoy using the natural light of the moon. Your eyes will adapt to the darkness and your night vision will improve, allowing you to fully enjoy the landscape, stars in the sky and nocturnal animals.
I recommend getting a light with multiple power settings, so that you are ready for any situation. You can use the low power setting to give a little boost to the natural light, and the high setting will come in handy when you hear a noise in the surrounding darkness and want to make sure Bigfoot isn’t following you along the trail.
Manners Alert: it is considered polite to turn off your light when crossing the path with other night hikers, or at least point it away from them so that you don’t affect their night vision.
Another bit of advice is to keep your hiking pack carefully organized, as trying to find things like your water bottle or snacks stowed in your pack can be more challenging at night. And by the way, don’t forget the extra batteries in your pack for your light!
A reflective vest and light colored clothing is a good idea in case you get separated from your hiking partner or group—they will be able to spot you from a distance. And finally, pack extra layers of clothing. As the sun goes down, so does the temperature. Check the forecast for the evening and make sure you are prepared to stay warm.
2. Stay Safe! Nighttime Hiking is More Dangerous Than During the Day Time
Hiking in the dark lends itself to some additional hazards beyond what you would normally encounter during the day. Do not go out there alone, especially if you are not familiar with the trail. Remember, you are in an isolated area and we hate to think about it, but bad things can happen. Bring a group of friends, a family member or even your dog on your night hike. Just imagine being out on an isolated trail alone at night; every gust of wind through the trees or dark shadow in the woods will feel intimidating and scary. Simply having others around you makes the dark much less eerie.
Be sure that someone at home knows you are on a hike and exactly where you are going—the exact trail, distance and your estimated finish time. Which, by the way, should be a trail you are already familiar with. Night hiking is not the time to explore new trails, it just adds too much risk.
We already know you are bringing your phone, so no need to mention the importance of this. But beyond being the critical item in case of emergency just think about all of the breathtaking photos you can take along your journey!
What’s the hurry night hiker? Slow down. Take extra care when out after dark, as the terrain on the trail can be more challenging, especially while using your night vision instead of an LED light. Rocks, tree roots and other obstacles are a real danger to tripping and causing injury, and those hazards can be upon you in an instant. Slow it down and tread carefully friends. If it is a particularly uneven trail be sure you forgo the moonlight and turn on the high power setting of your light.
Yes, there is wildlife all around you. Don’t worry (too much), most of the animals you encounter will not be of any threat; however, please know what wildlife is common in your area and if any are threatening to your safety. If so, then it may be better to stay home and catch The Tonight Show. Do you live in bear country? Hiking at night might not be your thing.
3. Have Fun! The Whole Purpose of Night Hiking
Of course, the main reason for hiking is for the enjoyment you receive. Sure, it is a great way to stay in shape, but there are a lot of other options for that purpose that are likely more convenient. If you are choosing to hike it is usually because you really like it (or, from personal experience, your wife is making you go). Hiking at night can add even more pleasure and fun, as there are opportunities that you just can’t get during daylight hours.
For example, the chance to view a sunset or sunrise. The beauty at dusk and dawn is something most people rarely see, even though it literally occurs every day. Hiking during that transition period from day to night or vice versa is a unique and memorable experience.
You don’t have to be a vampire to enjoy a full moon, or wait…is that a werewolf? We often see a full moon, usually once a month (unless it’s cloudy), but how often do you use the light of the moon? Hiking during a full moon that illuminates your path is literally brilliant.
The idea of to go out for a hike at night may seem strange at first. However, it's a time to reflect on the day, get in some extra miles, and enjoy nature without crowds or distractions. Properly prepared, it is a safe and enjoyable activity that will be a new experience that is enjoyed by only a few.
Stay safe, be seen, and Own The Night!
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